FORGIVEN by Bob Rich

Some time ago, I shared with some friends the story of the conversion of the man who killed our son Mark and the other two missionaries that were kidnapped from their homes in Panama. I was asked to put the story into writing, so here is an attempt to do that.

On January 31, 1993 a large group of guerrillas, belonging to the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia) of Colombia, entered the Kuna Indian village of Pucuro, in Panama, and took Dave Mankins, Rick Tenenoff and our son Mark Rich captive. Mark at the time was 23 years old and married to Tania. They had two precious daughters, Tamra and Jessica. A couple of days after the kidnapping, New Tribes Mission received a request for five million dollars ransom for the release of the missionaries. The story has been told in Hostage, by Nancy Mankins, Nashville: W. Publishing Group, 2001.

During the next eight and a half years there was very little information as to what had happened to our men. In the spring of 1996, however, a man that had defected from the FARC claimed that he had been our men’s guard for five months. He said that the men were being kept in the jungle and that, during the five months that he was in charge of them, they had moved camp 20 times. Mark was reported to have had malaria and had been given medicine for his treatment. The guard said that the men often sang, they still had their Bibles, and that Mark had even prayed with one of the guards.

Finally, in the fall of 2001, putting together all of the evidence that they were able to gather, the leadership of NTM concluded that the missionaries had been killed, so in October of 2001 they had a memorial service for them, and the wives and other family members have re-established their lives and continue serving our Lord.

In October of 2004, Tania, Mark’s widow, sent us the following information from a missionary in Colombia named Jeaninne. This (with some editing and translating) is what she wrote:

September 30, 2004

Dear Nancy, Tania, Patti, and family members of Dave, Mark and Rick,

I have carried your all on my heart and in my prayers over the years even though I did not know you. I serve the LORD Jesus in Medellin, Colombia. Besides [other] responsibilities…these past 14 years, I have worked, and still do, in the prisons of Colombia. In the latter difficult context, I knew that someday God would allow me to know something first hand about Dave, Mark, and Rick… I knew God had given you closure during the memorial service October 6, 2001. Our brothers here in prison asked that Lacides Hernandez go to represent them and to ask for your forgiveness on behalf of them and Colombia. We did not have any more information than you did at the time. (Bob’s note: We met Lacides in Florida, received his request for our forgiveness from his country and especially from the prisoners who had come to know Christ there, prayed with him and rejoiced with him in the many who have received Christ’s forgiveness in the prisons. He was a blessing to us and to the widows.)

On the evening of August 11, 2004, a medium built man, I assumed in his mid-fifties, appeared at my door with a pastor. Alberto was an ex-commander of the FARC. When he was only eleven, his mother and sisters were raped and all of his family was killed. He was the only one that survived. The guerrillas were the only ones that extended their hand to him, an orphan, but to be with them he had to kill. At eleven years of age he entered this brutal world of killing. For the next 23 years all he knew was the “monte” (jungle) and a Colombian prison. At the beginning of this year Alberto was released from prison; he had not yet turned thirty-four.

The next morning Alberto called me and asked to talk with me. The Holy Spirit revealed to my heart what Alberto would shortly tell me: About Dave, Mark and Rick. So many emotions came over me. It’s not an easy situation to be in. Alberto had great difficulty confessing to me. He asked me if I would forgive him for taking the lives of Mark, David and Rick. I was on sacred ground and felt the weight of his question. I breathed deeply before I responded, “Yes… I do.” Then I showed him the NTM magazine with the men on the front. He put it down and wept. Tears welled up inside of me. Alberto asked me what he could do. I told him to tell me what he remembered. “It is very painful for me; give me time; it is all buried inside, but I promise to God I will,” he responded heavy heartedly.

Providentially, months before God had provided me an opportunity to leave Colombia right after meeting Alberto. After attending a retreat in Colorado, I stopped on my return to meet with Nancy and Tania. God alone knows what this meant to me. Thank you. One thing that I felt certain was that as God restores the shattered life of Alberto he would give witness to who Mark, Dave and Rick were, and what God did during the dark days of captivity. What follows is a mosaic. It is awesome when you realize that all the Scripture verses mentioned and the Bible stories told are what the men taught Alberto without a Bible. Alberto wrote or told this to me all from memory.

In the love of Jesus,

Jeaninne

Subject: “The treasure from the Bible today.”
Date: Sept. 17, 2004
From: Alberto
To: Jeaninne

May God bless you and keep you forever. When the American missionaries were in captivity, it seemed so very strange to me because they took it as a privilege God had prepared for each of them! They sang a lot a song from the book of Jeremiah 20:7-13. “The Lord is with me as a powerful giant, those that persecute me will not prosper. Oh, glory, oh glory, Hallelujah! Oh glory, oh glory Hallelujah, amen. On a high mountain many people rejoiced because there the Spirit of God had come. In an upper room, many people rejoiced because the Spirit of God had come. The Spirit of God is already here. If you want to sing joyfully, come and sing as I do, and you will see how you will sense the Spirit of God.” This song is called “Powerful Giant”.

The men talked to me a great deal, telling me that the LORD forgives all my sins. They quoted to me Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.” They also told me: “There is a way which seems right unto man, but the end is death.” In John, chapter 14 verse 6, Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me.” They told me that 2 Cor. 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” They also said that the LORD places all our sins in the depth of the sea and He does not remember them anymore. They sang a beautiful hymn. “Heal me, free me, Oh Lord. I am tired of my sadness and brokenness: I want to live in the abundance of your peace. Oh Lord, in my mind and in my soul, heal me. Heal me, free me, that the chains that today bind me may be broken by you. I want to live in the abundance of your peace. Oh Lord in my mind and in my soul, heal me.”

Sister Jeaninne, there is a great deal that I need to share, but let’s go bit by bit. May the Lord bless you and keep you. Blessings. Please call me when you receive this. –Alberto.

September 21, 2004 – To Jeaninne from Alberto

At the beginning I was very hard on the American missionaries, David, Mark and Rick. But the only way they knew to respond to me was with love. For example, Mark talked about his two little girls and this made me remember that I too was a father. But regardless of how I treated them, their love always won me over. A day finally arrived when I could at last extend my hand to Mark. He is the one that talked to me the most about the Word of God. I remember one beautiful morning when I felt something stirring inside of me; it was very hard for me to comprehend what was happening and why my heart felt moved. I would never understand it because I had not as yet opened my heart to the Lord Jesus. But today since Jesus lives in me, I can comprehend what kind of fire burned inside my heart.

Rick and David were the two missionaries that always gave “flavor to life”. What I mean is that you never saw them sad and they were always encouraging, and talked about spiritual things. They talked to me about Paul and each said, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Rick always talked about his three young children; he said he had two daughters and a son. On occasions, Rick shared that he had asked God to give him a son, and his desire was to see his son grow up, as well as his two daughters. But Rick knew that his children were in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and he stated that God had already begun His work in them. That is to say, that God had them in His heart before they were born and He would complete His work in them.”

“David also told me that he had two children: one of them, his son, was studying in the university; his daughter’s name was Sarah, his princess. David was the one who most often sang the song from Jer. 20. The men talked a lot about their people: they deeply loved their wives. They meant the world to them. It seemed very strange to me, but they knew that their wives were okay (at peace) because they trust in God and know He is in control. They were certain that they were praising God in the midst of deep trial, and that they were even praying for me that I would believe in God!

I hope that I, Alberto, will have the opportunity to confess with my own lips to them what their husbands suffered in captivity. Most of all, I desire to ask them to forgive me for all the pain I caused them in taking the lives of their loved ones.

On one occasion when the men were tied up they sang “Heal me, free me”. They did not weep but they sang, and this only confused me all the more. But now that the King of Kings and the Lord of lords lives in my heart, I can understand the amazing grace manifested in the men’s lives. Today I rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, my living Savior, because David, Mark and Rick sowed the seed in my heart. It is so true that the Word of God does not return void, but it accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent. The Bible says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it.”

Friday, Sept. 23, 2004

I learned so very much from Dave, Mark and Rick. Last night the Holy Spirit brought back to my memory the things the men taught me while in captivity. I wept a great deal last night and a great sadness overwhelmed me. How I would give my life so that these great men could live. I should have been the one to have died. I am not worthy of such great love, the love of the God who lived in them. Everything that I know, I learned from them. They always spoke to me in love. I saw and received nothing but love from them in spite of how they were treated. They said, “We know God has us here, and we receive all He brings with love, even if it means we are to die.”

1 Timothy 3:16 says: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great.” This is a great mystery. What father would send his only son to be killed? This is what God did with His only Son Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

“What to man seems impossible, with God is possible. It does not matter the sin a man has committed. What is important is that you receive Jesus in your heart,” they told me. God’s mercy is so great that he forgave David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and arranged Uriah’s death. God sent the prophet Nathan to David (2 Samuel 12). When David listened to Nathan, he said, “That man should die.” To which Nathan responded, “You are that man.” God is merciful and He forgave David. In the four Gospels we have the account of Peter. Peter betrayed His Lord and Savior and he cursed Jesus, but even this sin Jesus forgave. Jesus appeared to Peter after He arose from the dead. Peter was naked, and covered himself. He had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you have anything to eat? Throw the net on the other side.” When they obeyed Jesus, they got a great quantity of fish. With God nothing is impossible.

The depth of wisdom and knowledge Dave, Mark and Rick had, really made a deep impression upon me. One day they told me, “Some day your are going to be great in the Lord. You are going to belong to the LORD.” This made me laugh. That would be very difficult. I was so hard, and hated anything of a spiritual nature. The degree of hatred I had toward God was so great that I took their Bibles and burned them. Alberto said to me with remorse: “Everything that they taught me from the Bible was the word of God that they had hid in their hearts. “God’s Word does not return void.” They said, “God is great, He is here, He is everywhere. We cannot get away from the presence of God. Some day each one of us will have to stand before the judgment seat of God and each one will have to answer for what we have done in the flesh and what we have done with Jesus.”

I came to Christ the hard way. God brought me to Himself in spite of my hatred; Jesus drew near in the dungeon of a prison. When I opened my heart to Jesus, like the men told me to do, I felt transformed. I wept and wept. Then I began to remember how Mark quoted Psalm 139. The other chapters they gave me were Psalms 1, 2, 3, 10, 23, 34, 37, 38, 40, 51, 55, 56, 86, 87, 90-92. “You alone are God.” Also Psalms 121, 115, 139, 104, 142. In prison, I read these day and night. Then I remembered also how Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. The fellows told me when I would begin to read the Bible, to begin with the Gospel of John. So I did just as they taught me. I remember the songs, “As Eagles”, “In the beginning the Spirit of God…” and “Christ breaks the chains.”

The men sang constantly. Mark would jump up and down as he sang. They were always filled with joy, and this perplexed me. I did not understand it until I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. They sang, “I journeyed down a road, in anguish and without hope, but I found a friend, and that friend is Jesus.” Another one they sang was “He arose, He arose”. Every day, as I now recall, was really beautiful because they lived daily in the presence of Jesus. I was with them the last fourteen months of their lives. They sowed the seed in my heart. They spoke to me with great love. Because of them I know who Jesus is. Today He lives in me. Hebrews 13:8. “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The other five members of the FARC who were guards with me were later killed, but each had accepted Jesus as their Savior with one of the men. At the time I did not understand what was happening.

In time I grew to respect and feel affection for Dave, Mark and Rick. I wanted to let them go, but the circumstances did not permit it. My superiors gave the order to kill them. They were ready to give their lives as a sacrifice. On their last days they knew they were going to die, but told me they knew they were going to a far better place. I believe the date was around July 23, 1996 at 4pm. One of the last things the men said to me was: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Ecclesiastes 11:1. As is the custom, the men had to dig their own graves, but Dave, Rick and Mark sang as they worked, digging. How could they? They shared Psalm 56 with me and told me that when in danger I should remember it. “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise –In God I trust: I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? I am under vows to you. O God: I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” They lifted their voices in songs and sang:

“Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God our Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fails not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth.
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with ten thousand besides!”

Our missionary friend, Jeaninne, finishes this report by quoting 2 Cor. 4:8-12.

At the time we received this report I was preaching a series of seven messages on the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday mornings, expounding on a phrase from the prayer each week. That Sunday I was to preach on “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” That afternoon Noel wrote to Jeaninne in Colombia, and I will quote her email:

Dear Jeaninne,

This is just a short note to you from us, the parents of Mark Rich, who was killed by the guerrillas in 1996. We were very moved to receive the confession from the man you worked with as a result of your jail ministry in Medellin. Bob, my husband, preached this morning on forgiveness. He is doing a series on the Lords’ Prayer. He had the part today about “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. He decided to tell the story of how Mark was killed, based on Alberto’s confession. It was a very moving message and Bob taped it. He wants to send you a copy of the tape, for Alberto. Of course you may listen to it first.

“On the side, as Mark’s mom, I just want to tell you that of course I freely forgive Alberto and the others who kidnapped and held Mark. I am sincerely rejoicing that several of them have come to know the Lord, and will again be with Mark –in glory forever. Some day I hope to meet Alberto and the others who were with Mark during those very difficult years. We have so very much to thank God for. I am truly thankful for the confirmation that my son was faithful to our dear Lord to the very end. I am also truly thankful that he was used by his dear Savior to testify to others. Thanks so very much. Please convey this message to Alberto:

(I am translating here what Noel wrote to Alberto in Spanish:)

My brother in Christ: I am Mark’s mother. I want you to know that I have absolutely nothing against you, nor do I hold any resentment at all in my heart. I am very thankful to my Lord Jesus Christ that you are now our brother and that we will see you in the presence of our Lord Jesus forever. Thank you for your confession.

We thank God for your conversion. We thank Jeaninne for informing us, by means of Tania, Mark’s widow. We thank God that my precious Mark was faithful till death to his Savior Jesus Christ. When Mark was a child I taught him that this was the most important thing in life. My constant prayer from the moment of his capture the 31st of January of 1993 was that he would be faithful to Christ to the end. God has answered that prayer, and this gives me unspeakable joy. We have also prayed for his captors. Thus we are very thankful that so many of them have come to know the love and the forgiveness of God. You are one of them. To God be the glory! My husband, Mark’s father, also freely forgives you. He preached this morning about forgiveness, from Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6. So, in order to be forgiven, we must forgive. Jesus said that we should forgive and pray for those who do us evil. We have done that. Brother, may God richly bless you and we will continue to pray for you in your Christian life. Sincerely, your sister in Christ, Noel Rich.

The 18th of December 2004 Jeaninne wrote to us:

“I received your powerful message, Bob, and gave it to Alberto. When he called me, he wept, saying that he should be the one who was killed, not Mark, David and Rick. That night he listened to your message three times, and since has played it for others to hear. It has ministered deeply not only to him but to others who have listened to your anointed message. Alberto sends his gratitude.”

In that message I emphasized that I was as guilty as Alberto was. Alberto deserved to die because he killed my son, but because of my sins, God’s only Son had to die. WHAT IS MY SON COMPARED TO GOD’S SON? If I have been forgiven, how can I refuse to forgive Alberto? Praise God, we are a forgiven (and forgiving) people.

Bob Rich
June 23, 2006

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